Thursday 18 September 2008

Holmes and Lucia

Things have been busy so I'm a bit behind with book reviews. Thus, I'm just going to do two quick ones to catch up. The first is The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - a Sherlock Holmes mystery of course.

It's a couple of weeks since I read this and it's hard to remember the details. Basically, Holmes is bored and taking drugs when suddenly a Miss Morstan appears with a problem. Her father died under suspicious circumstances some years before and suddenly someone is sending her pearls and apologising for the way life has treated her. Why? Watson is smitten and Holmes investigates.

Wonderful, as always. The back story concerning warfare in India and skulduggery and deception with treasure is most fascinating. I love the scene where Holmes and Watson go in hot pursuit of the villain in a boat on the Thames. Great stuff and I'm all ready now to read my next Laurie R. King novel - The Moor.


The Mapp and Lucia stories by E.F. Benson seem to be beloved of various friends and bloggers so I thought I'd try them for myself. Queen Lucia is the first in the series.

The story is set in the sleepy village of Riseholme. Mrs. Lucas, known to all as 'Lucia' (pronounced in the Italian manner), is queen of the village and everyone follows her lead in all things artistic. We're introduced to various characters, Georgie, Lucia's effeminate second in command, The Quantocks, Mrs. Weston, Col. Boucher etc. It soon becomes apparent that though they all follow Lucia's lead there is in fact quite a bit of rivalry to be the first with a new fad or with news. And the latest thing is that Daisy Quantock has an Indian Guru living with her and her husband. Lucia is green with envy and furious that Daisy has done this without consulting her. Next thing we know there is a famous opera singer, Olga Bracely, staying in the village and Lucia is again the last to know. What's happening and how will Lucia cope with what appears to be a fall from grace?

E.F. Benson's writing is not new to me - I've read probably all of his superb ghost stories and think he was one of the best supernatural writers around in the first half of the 20th. century. I hadn't tried his Mapp and Lucia books though, not sure why, just wasn't the right time I think.

I have to say that all the people who love this book are quite justified in doing so. It's funny, beautifully observed and actually has quite lot to say about the nature of friendship. We all know someone like Lucia, although maybe not quite as extreme, and I think that's why it all felt so *real* to me. Benson must have been a brilliant observer of people, but he's never cruel, it's all done tongue-in-cheek and with a great deal of humour. Wonderful. I was hoping to find the next book, Miss Mapp, in Waterstones this morning but no such luck. Amazon here I come...


Ana S. said...

The Sign of Four sounds wonderful. I really need to read more Sherlock Holmes stories.

"Benson must have been a brilliant observer of people, but he's never cruel, it's all done tongue-in-cheek and with a great deal of humour."

This reminds me of our dear Terry Pratchett :) And if E.F. Benson also has this ability, how can I resist?

Danielle said...

I didn't realize he wrote ghost stories (I'm reading MR James for this weekend's story by the way!). I have this same edition and I've been meaning to read Mapp and Lucia for a while now. The books sound like just what I like!

DesLily said...

some day before I die I hope to actually open and read my huge edition of Doyl's Sherlock Holmes book! *sigh* it's one of those tomes and I keep putting it off thinking I can read 3 or 4 smaller tbr books and get the pile down..heh.. then of course I order more books and so the pile never really goes down!

Ohhhh, she's going to read the Moor!! In this one ocassionally Mary describes herself or holmes and just cracks me up lol.. it also may have been the fact it was the first Mary Russell book I read but I found parts really funny. And of course a good story!

Anonymous said...

I laughed at your description of The sign of four- it could be applied to all the Holmes stories! I must re-read some of the soon.

I enjoyed The Moor and envy you still having some Mary Russell books to read for the first time.

I will read the Mapp and Lucia books one of these days given the rave reviews. It's a pity you couldn't find the second one at the bookshop- I hate it when that happens.

Cath said...

Nymeth: Benson's style is very much of the 1920s, very subtle. And 'Lucia' in the book is so absurd that she could easily have been invented by Terry. Benson also writes excellent ghost stories, btw.

Danielle: I hope you enjoy M.R. James... can't wait to hear what you think of him.

Yes, E.F. Benson writes wonderfully atmospheric ghost stories too. I have a complete volume which I must reread, but his stories often turn up in supernatural anthologies. Judging by your taste in books, I would think it almost certain that you would love the subtle humour of the Mapp and Lucia books. Benson's brother, Arthur, was a life-long friend of M.R. James in fact. The Bensons were a very talented family apparently, their father being the Archbishop of Canterbury and all of the children writers in one form or another I believe.

Pat, I'm not sure I could even hold my omnibus copy of Sherlock Holmes!!! LOL. I've no idea why I bought it.

Yep, I started The Moor last night and love it already. Poor Mary tramped through the mud and the rain to get to Holmes, and he and his vicar friend were sarcastic about her appearance! I would have thrown more than the maps at him...
Ya gotta love Mary though.

Sarah: Yes, I have four or five Mary Russell books still to read. And I think there may be a new one coming out some time, but am not sure. I love them to bits.

I can highly recommend the Mapp and Lucia books as gentle but amusing reads.

DesLily said...

LOL yep I love Mary! hahaha

I'm down to my last 2 Mary Russell books! As soon as I get done with RIP I am sure I will read them (The Game/ Locked Rooms)..

Did you ever read her last book (not a Mary Russell) called Touchstone? I don't know why but didn't think I'd like it and I wound up liking it A LOT! Thinking of rereading sometime soon.

Cath said...

No, I haven't read Touchstone yet, Pat, but I plan to at some stage. I remember you saying that some of it was set in Cornwall and how much you had liked it, so I will definitely look for it sometime soon.

Danielle said...

How interesting. I actually posted EF Benson and his grandson commented on the post, which I thought was totally cool. I still must read him!

Danielle said...

Oh, I lied--it was HE Bates's grandson--I always confuse the two authors!

Cath said...

Danielle: It doesn't matter who it was, it's very cool to have the grandson of any famous author comment in your blog!

Juliet said...

Fascinating reviews - I haven't read either of these.

btw, there's a new challenge over on Musings to which I hope you will feel inspired to rise!

Cath said...

Hi Juliet. The book challenge looks really intriguing but, as you'll see from my most recent post, I've not much time at the moment to do stuff like that and probably won't until the end of the month. I know - sad.